Presentation Design for the College Classroom

Note: This post also appears on my personal blog.

What do effective presentations look like in a college classroom?

Last Saturday I offered some thoughts on this to a group of adjunct faculty at the Hargrove School at Lincoln Christian University. The faculty development session was only 45 minutes so we were limited in what we could cover but here are the key points.

  1. Don’t default to PowerPoint – You have lots of options for learning experiences: demonstrations, writing/drawing on the whiteboard, discussion, video, and more. PowerPoint is just one tool.
  2. One idea per slide – The less that’s on the slide, the fewer distractions, the better the focus. Instead of using one slide with six bullet points, expand that one slide out to six separate slides.
  3. Minimize text – Closely related to #2. Don’t type everything on the slide that you plan to say. Use just a word or two.
  4. Use pictures – Images are powerful and emotional. We remember what we feel. When you use images, don’t feel constrained by the placeholders on the slide–let your photos fill the slide. See The Girl Effect for a good example of these points.
  5. Stories for the win – Stories engage us emotionally and spark curiosity, an essential ingredient for learning. They can also be used to keep and regain attention (See Dr. John Medina’s notes on attention from his book Brain Rules).
  6. Give cues – Many students take notes by writing what they see on the PowerPoint slides–nothing more. Give students verbal cues: “write this down,” “this is important,” “this will be on the test.” You can also build visual cues into your presentation that help them navigate your lecture. For example, create your main point slides in one color and subpoint slides in a different color.
  7. Get inspired – Here are a few helpful resources: TED (and here are some of my favorite talks), Slideshare (here are my favorites), Compfight (great tool for searching images on flickr), Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (give them your email address and they’ll give you some excellent teaching and presenting resources for free), and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. I’ll recommend our own book, Presentation Renovation, as well–you can download it right now.

Last fall I wrote a couple posts to help students prepare better presentations for their end-of-semester projects. You might find those helpful as well:

Thanks to Hargrove School leaders Steve Collins and Tom Tanner for inviting me to participate in the event and thanks also to everyone who attended and asked good questions.

UPDATE: Here’s a photo that Rick Champ, one of the attendees, took from the back of the room as we were getting started. Rick’s a smart guy and he’s on twitter–you might follow him.

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